109
Hot Tubs and Boomers
Make Warm Friends
W
E CALLED
our hot tub venture California Cooperage± It was the first and
only national distributor to mass produce redwood hot tubs± We also offered
the more traditional vacuum-formed plastic spas, as well as redwood saunas±
Te idea first germinated in my early 20s, while I attended hot tub
parties in Santa Barbara± At each of these gatherings, it seemed
that people felt comfortable relaxing in the warm water
without their swimsuits± I wondered if this phenomenon was
something unique to Santa Barbara, and how people outside
of California might view hot tubbing± Intuitively, I thought that
there might be a wider market±
I ordered a redwood hot tub for my house in San Luis Obispo± Dick Blake, who
lived in Pismo Beach, was one of my first friends to also install a tub in his back
yard± At my house or his, we quickly found that the hot tub experience was the
same as in Santa Barbara± Our friends would soak together
au naturale
, chatting,
sipping wine and having fun± It was magic± One day, sitting in Dick’s tub, it hit
me:
Tese puppies will sell nationwide.
I had a prototype engineered and took out a full-page ad in
Playboy
magazine±
Te response was immediate and overwhelming± We began buying tubs from
redwood tank manufacturers in Oregon± But they could fabricate only limited
quantities, and by the end of the first year we knew it would just be a matter of
time before we outstripped our tank suppliers’ ability to produce±
However, before I tackled the manufacturing/supply issue, I wanted to ensure
our distribution± In 1979, we took a booth at the annual Swimming Pool and
Spa Convention in hopes of signing up retail dealers across the country±
Big Brother Comes Through
Tat year the convention was held in San Francisco± For our booth, I figured we
needed more than a simple sales counter and an empty tub± Our company
hatched an ambitious plan – we would construct a large, custom trailer to serve
as our display and booth± We’d outfit the trailer with redwood decks and a
working redwood hot tub±
Te challenge: Te whole thing had to look sharp and be self-contained±
As luck would have it, my brother Greg had become chief engineer at Johnson
Machinery, a Salinas company that manufactured special trailers and other
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110
Te Later Years
PB-2A
Playboy
magazine, June 1979
Shell Beach,
California
The advertisement shown at right ran in
Playboy, Rolling Stone, Esquire
and other national
publications, and is a good example of our 1970s ad campaign. The fellow with the grin is an
old friend, Tim Haley, who worked at California Cooperage and was more than happy to
model for the shot. I’m uncertain who the women are, although I remember writing the copy
and thinking the ad might be “too provocative.” By today’s standards, it’s tame, but in the
’70s the picture and text confirmed many Americans’ fantasies about “Californians and their
hot tubs.” The ad hit a nerve – we received thousands of inquiries and began shipping hot
tubs to customers in all 50 states.
Hot tub systems were delivered
directly to the consumer (with
do-it-yourself instructions), or
purchased from and installed
by 300 dealers nationwide.
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112
Te Later Years
complex machinery for the agricultural industry± I had a couple of sketches
drawn up, and Greg drove down to San Luis Obispo to assess the project±
Greg designed a hot tub trailer that incorporated an air-bag suspension system
– the trailer would lower all the way to the ground when shiFed to “show”
mode± It featured all sorts of equipment compartments, folding contraptions
and
a striped canvas awning± Every bit of the operational gear was built in± Te
whole thing looked completely natural, as if it had been liFed whole from a
boomer’s suburban backyard± Our real-life display wouldn’t bear any
resemblance to a trailer when it was set up at the convention±
Te first time I watched the trailer transform itself to an exhibition booth I was
thrilled± Greg’s creation had surpassed my expectations± Te hot tub trailer was both
elegant and functional± It stole the show – with the help of two beautiful women
.
Making redwood hot tubs irresistible
In the mid-’70s, the swimming pool and spa industry was run by conservative
businessmen, most of them in construction trades± Our hot tubs were catching
on in California, but most of the would-be corporate buyers at the National
Pool and Spa convention – better known as the NSPI convention – were from
the Midwest or East Coast± I figured we needed to shake things up a bit to bring
nationwide attention to California redwood hot tubs±
I called Bruce James, a good friend and business associate in San ²rancisco± (He
would become the 24th U±S± public printer±) I’d known him for several years and
he’d become both a friend and mentor± Bruce was one of the few guys
I knew who could get
anything
done±
[See page 357]
I asked Bruce if he could find two attractive professional actresses to take part in
a publicity event± I explained that hiring and paying the women had to be
handled through his firm± California Cooperage couldn’t be associated with
what I had in mind± Everything had to be confidential± I outlined my entire
plan, which would require finesse on Bruce’s part± I was a little apprehensive as
I outlined the details, but his response was immediate: “Absolutely± No problem±
I’ll get it done±” He also assured me that he’d provide a professional photographer,
and that photos would make it to the media covering the convention±
²rankly, I was nervous± AFer all, it was the first time our company had a booth
at the national convention±
A big splash at the convention
Te day the convention opened, two dazzling women in provocative attire
arrived at the crowded Cow Palace± Te head-turning pair made a slow circuit
of the convention floor, cruising up and down the aisles and mingling among
California Cooperage catalogs for Hot Tubs, Spas, Saunas and Accessories
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Te Later Years
We sold hot tubs like hotcakes± John King, Jim Smith and Dr± Brendan McAdams
– all previous investors in our stereo business – helped us bring in new investors±
John King and I were already business associates and now we became close
friends – we lived next to each other in Monterey Heights and I’d take John’s
son, JG, to wrestling matches at Cal Poly± When John entered the restaurant
business, Jim, Brendan and I invested in his first two locations±
California Cooperage continued to grow, and, John’s construction company
built a 60,000-square-foot manufacturing complex with offices and warehouse
in the middle of a cow pasture on Industrial Way, on the outskirts of San Luis
Obispo± Within a few years, California Cooperage was supplying a nationwide
network of approximately 300 retailers±
John King also helped by remodeling seven of
our own hot tub stores± Our outlets were located
from San Rafael in Northern California to
Sherman Oaks in Southern California± We had
extra capacity at our new mill facility, so we
formed a second company, American Tank and
Mill, which offered a separate line of redwood
tubs to our competitors±
Other key people (all still residents of the Central
Coast today) had a significant hand in the hot tub
ventures: Bob Silva, John Doyle, Elaine Sullivan,
Sandy Johnson, Gary Gatel, Tim Haley and Beth
Hamel±
[See page 358]
As the company continued to attract new
customers, we realized that the solid redwood tubs had three inherent flaws±
²e main problem had to do with ecology: ²e watertight tubs required all-heart
kiln-dried redwood (with zero knots), which came from old-growth redwood
trees± Not a good thing – and not a renewable source±
Secondly, the solid redwood provided only moderate heat retention± We quickly
designed a hybrid, the Spa Tub, made from cedar and other renewable woods±
From the outside, our new model looked like a traditional wood tub, but on the
inside the walls were lined with dense foam, which provided excellent insulation±
Finally, a redwood hot tub had a bench and used more water than the Spa Tub±
²e Spa Tub’s molded interior seat design was more comfortable, and the tub’s
lower water capacity reduced both heat-up time and the power bill± Our handy,
insulated roll-up cover worked like a big thermos to keep the water warm± And
the tub’s lined walls made it easy to clean± ²e spa Tub becaue our biggest seller±
n
the conventioneers± Ninety percent of the attendees were men between the
ages of 30 and 55, and the actresses Bruce had hired quickly began catching
their attention
±
²e two finally completed their casual inspection of all the different booths,
then made their way toward our California Cooperage exhibit, pausing beside
our trailer with its redwood tub and bubbling warm water± Both women looked
on with sudden interest± ²ey put their hands in the inviting water and splashed
each other± Without much fanfare – as if it were the most logical, most natural
response in the world – the women began shedding their clothes, dropping
them on the redwood deck±
²en they eased themselves with obvious pleasure into our waiting hot tub
.
The naked actress plan hits the mark
My plan turned out to be fun – and almost became a riot± At first the women sat
quietly in the moving water, content to chat with men as they approached± But a
growing buzz had traveled rapidly across the convention floor when the actresses
disrobed and entered the tub± Within minutes, the word had spread and now
men were packed 10 deep at our booth±
A security guard came over to see what the commotion was about± He got a
quick eyeful and informed the women that they needed to leave± He tried to grab
one actress by the arm, but she retreated to the middle of the large tub, out of
reach± Both women began laughing and splashing the guard as the crowd broke
into cheers± Several men started yelling at him to leave the friendly bathers alone±
Outnumbered, the soaked security guard le³ the scene – I suppose for
reinforcements – and the actresses promptly emerged from the tub, drying off on
the trailer’s deck before the admiring crowd± ²e all-male audience broke into
applause as the hot tub models le³ our booth to slip out through the hall’s rear
entrance±
By late evening, the next day’s convention newspaper was printed and the story
appeared on the front page± Before morning, I made sure that the newsletter
was delivered to every local hotel room occupied by conventioneers±
²e article quoted the actresses as if they’d spoken in tandem: “Who could resist
a California redwood hot tub? We’re sorry if we offended anyone, but the tub
felt so good against our skin±”
All day, conventioneers walked by our trailer, most of them pointing out our
hot tub as they passed± We didn’t need to be lip readers to make out the common
remark: “²at’s where those girls were±”
My effective but fairly chauvinist marketing ploy – a sales pitch I wouldn’t repeat
today – was the talk of that year’s pool and spa show±